Introducing: Repo Fam’s “Psycho Bombs”

A new music video, plus an essay about it from director and frontwoman Michelle Peña.

I initially wrote “Psycho Bombs” as a tribute to George Harrison, my favorite member of the Beatles. It’s a short and simple song in the key of C that I hoped would be easy for my newly assembled band to play live. The lyrics were influenced by a magazine article about Harrison’s favorite things: “Small blondes, driving, sleeping, Eartha Kitt, chips, and Alfred Hitchcock movies.” This is what inspired the original title of the song, “Psycho Blondes,” but that was quickly changed to “Psycho Bombs.”

In the video I directed for “Psycho Bombs,” a blonde woman with a blue mask sings and plays guitar to the camera. I created a duplicitous character similar to that of an actress in a Hitchcock film. The viewer senses a dark and ominous force take over the blonde. She is cast under a spell, which ultimately leads to her tragic ending. The psychedelic effects in the video illustrate her deep fall into psychosis. I was hoping to simulate a destructive fall from grace; a glimpse into the soul seconds before the boom.

“Psycho bombs, driving along, singing a song….”

A notable Hitchcock blonde, Grace Kelly, tragically died in the aftermath of a crash while driving off a cliff’s edge in Monaco. A truck driver witnessed the car moving erratically while approaching a bend called “The Devil’s Curve.” The wreckage was later unceremoniously dumped into the blue Mediterranean sea.

When I revisit the meaning behind “Psycho Bombs,” I see how it can be interpreted as a representation of ego death. I’ve experienced that whenever you push yourself too hard, your inner world tends to crash and burn. Running on empty will affect your perception of reality. Many things become distorted; you start to feel your mask begin to loosen at every turn. This has happened to me personally throughout the years.

During quarantine, I’ve been trying to overcome my own self-imposed distortions in relation to my work. Creating a song or a film can feel like going through a dark tunnel of the mind. You have to be patient, until you see that light. I try not to think of the outcome of my art too much. Total and complete control over your life is just an illusion. Why should making songs or films be any different?

The blue mask worn in the video is a nod to Édith Scob’s character in Holy Motors (2012) by Leos Carax. She wears a similar mask in Eyes Without A Face (1960) by Georges Franju. The latter film is about a woman whose face is horribly disfigured during a car crash. Both films deal with extreme shifts in identity.

I sing the lyrics, “What’s that line?” meaning what is the line between your true self and your facade? Are “psychic deaths” necessary to get to the next level? Will a “truer version” of you always remain unseen?

In the past, I felt the pressure to get my band on the right track. To record a lot of songs, play shows, and put my soul out into the ether. Making music is therapy to me. Every song carries an emotion that was necessary for my growth and spirit. I realize there is an invisible thread between my life and my art. No matter how subtle or painful, I try to incorporate it into my work. There is strength in recognizing past failures. Your experiences give you invaluable wisdom that can’t really be taught in any other way.

Since quarantine, Repo Fam has undergone a transformation. We can’t play live shows, so we’ve spent more time focusing more on the filmmaking aspect of the band. For the Whipped Cream EP, I wanted to create a music video for every song that encompasses concepts in music and film that we find inspiring.

All shot on Super 8 film, I wanted to create a visual feeling of jazz; so, I edited the scenes to match the urgency of the songs. Each video is slightly more manic than the next. The scenes are bright and colorful to add some balance to the dark imagery of the lyrics. When I started making this EP, the ultimate goal was just to have a few songs I was proud of pressed to wax. I wanted to look back on this time in my life and have something to smile about. But with the present so grim and future so unclear; I might have a lot more to reminisce on than just a record.

Living as an artist in this age feels heavier everyday. The pandemic has shifted our reality to a darker plateau. There’s no live music. No movie theatres. There’s barely human contact left, so our perceptions are now online. The only safety we have is camouflaging our identities through a screen. The mask stays on, as long as the world ”keeps moving.”

At the end of the video, I include a static shot of a fast moving water flowing in one direction, stopping, and flowing in the opposite. As if someone high above is controlling it by remote. Living what we assume is a “a normal existence” now feels performative. Reality, or what we perceive it to be, constantly glitching. To cloak your identity, to wear a mask is not even a choice; it’s a means for survival.

Michelle Peña

Repo Fam’s Whipped Cream 7” is available for pre-order now. 

(Photo Credit: Sean Connell)

Repo Fam is the new musical project of Baltimore singer, guitarist, and keyboardist Michelle Peña.
Repo Fam isn’t Michelle’s first musical endeavor. She helped form the short-lived indie-pop trio Esmond and spent two years playing wild and urgent keyboards for the radical Washington, D.C. punk band Foul Swoops. After stints in groups led by other people, Michelle felt it was time she took the lead and forge her own musical path.
Assisted by Sean Connell (Foul Swoops) on drums and bass, and recorded by John Howard (Nice Breeze, The Plums), the songs on Repo Fam’s self-titled debut jump from subtle to direct and from introspective to urgent without hesitation. The cigarette ash and tricky guitar bits driving through the album signal an above-the-noise writer aiming to knock the pedestal gargoyles back to Earth. Packed in a black bubblegum pop house, these eight songs transcend the basement scene and shake loose the foundations of discotheques across the land. Take a tape and bop around a new block.